Over the years I’ve written many a mission statement, extolling the virtues of hard work, goal setting and various other corporate platitudes favoured by HR departments the world over. Yet at some point this week, whilst absent-mindedly scanning through a corporate brochure, I was struck by a feeling of slight unease at the realisation that no such motivational literature exists in our company.
Up until this point, my ‘mission’ (if you could call it such a thing) has basically been to survive the working day without satisfying the ever-pressing urge to commit mass homicide. Which is all well and good when you’re a battle-hardened team of two up against the odds and making things up as you go along.
However, complications start to arise as your team expands, with each successive hire less regularly exposed to your particular brand of peculiar, and thus unable to align to whatever mission it is that currently exists somewhere in the dark depths of your mind.
Now I’ll admit I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the whole ‘mission statement’ concept, regarding such touchy-feely flourishes as pet projects for people who evidently have far too much time on their hands. I mean who really has hours to sit crafting reams of content that nobody is paying for and nobody is likely to read? If you want to know my values, just ask me.
Yet as I perused through the aforementioned corporate brochure, I was forced to ask myself some hard questions. What do we stand for as a business? Do we even have specific goals? And do we need them? They say that if you don’t stand for anything, you fall for everything, and lately I’ve started see evidence of this in play far too often for my liking.
You see, as an entrepreneur, you’re trained to say ‘yes’ to pretty much everything. ‘Do you do PR?’. ‘Sure’. (Real answer: I truly despise dealing with people and would rather chop off my own face than make a phone call). ‘Will you join us for an eight-day brainstorm in the middle of nowhere? Oh PS you’ll be sleeping on a bunk bed.’ ‘Absolutely!’ (Real answer: You separate me from my own pillow and I will cut you).
This culture of yes is beneficial to a point, as it allows you to maneouvre and expand in ways you might not previously have considered. Yet at a certain juncture, it comes time to take stock of all the various moving parts of your business, and assess which are truly adding value before you lose track of your identity entirely.
You see, the beauty of a small business is its ability to really own a niche, to specialise in an art in which others only dabble, and to establish itself as a pre-eminent voice in the field. Once you start to wade outside your area of expertise, things tend to get a little murky, and before you know it you’re a digital/PR/marketing/fast food agency, tinkering about with every type of income-generating activity on earth, yet truly excelling at none. Mission impossible.
For small business owners, it’s important to play the long game – to look beyond the allure of bigger budgets and increased scope and get back to basics. Trying to be everything to everyone is going to get you precisely nowhere in a hurry, but how are you going to know when to draw the line if you haven’t established it in the first place?
So I’ll admit I was wrong about the whole mission statement thing. Yes it can end up sounding overly pompous and self-serving. Yes, it will probably be read all of 5 times in its existence. But if nothing else, it’s a fantastic tool for any business owner to refer back to, particularly if you feel like your business is leading you, rather than vice versa.
For new starters too, it’s important to lay a strong foundation, and to give them something concrete and concise to believe in. After all, if you simply pander to everyone’s requests and spend your life being a corporate whipping boy, how can you expect your employees to take you seriously?
At the end of the day, your business lives and dies by its values, and it’s time you start standing up for them. Of course, the first step is to write them down. Here are a few things you need to bear in mind when drawing up your mission statement:
- Establish what you are and aren’t willing to do. For instance, you might be willing to work an extra hour or two above and beyond the scope of your contract, but you aren’t amenable to being shipped across the country and having your time wasted by well-paying psychopaths (another story for another day). Boundaries are important, and without them, you’re going to be taken for a ride.
- Keep it tight. Don’t compromise your reputation by venturing into disciplines that you know aren’t for you. If you want to be at the top of your game, make sure you’re on the correct playing field.
- Remember why you started. What was that spark that compelled you to create something new in the first place? To ensure you remain focused on your mission, it’s important to return to the beginning, and to revisit the circumstances that drove you to embark on this crazy beautiful journey.